Trail Aware

Benefits of self-protection training.

A quick search on Wikipedia reveals that “martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practices, which are practiced for a variety of reasons: self-defense, competition, physical health and fitness, and entertainment, as well as mental, physical, and spiritual development.” What’s that got to do with outdoor recreation, you might ask?

Well first off, martial arts won’t help you judo-chop a grizzly or throw a chokehold on a mountain lion. Better off sticking with a can of Counter Assault or a readily accessible Glock 10mm. While self-protection is one of the main reasons people pursue martial arts, it’s actually the least applied aspect of training. “When you have learned to fight, you won’t have to” is an adage I use when teaching combatives. There is a perceptible degree of self-confidence and awareness that comes from the study and practice of hand-to-hand fighting arts. Confidence breeds composure, which is one of your best assets in a dangerous situation.

When I was younger I assumed that the more advanced I was in the ability of self-protection, the more apt I would be to find myself in aggressive engagements. Yet, I found the opposite was true. Human predators have a sense for picking out a victim, as well as certain routines for finding their prey. One of the reasons we are out in the wilderness is to get away from it all. We want to be away from people and we are seeking a degree of privacy. Privacy is something the criminal predator thrives on; these predators are watching for easy targets. They will examine the way you carry yourself. Are you aware of your surroundings? Are you carrying items that may be used as improvised weapons?

A common product of Martial Arts is how it develops your awareness. It changes how you see your environment and the people in your immediate surroundings. Awareness and paranoia are not the same. You are aware because you understand that dangers exist, whether human, animal, or environmental. Situational awareness is the number-one reason given by felons for picking out a specific victim. The victim just had no idea what was coming. I tell my students all the time to “keep your head on a swivel.” You are out there to enjoy nature, so SEE it! Look around. See what’s out there, see who’s out there, and see who (or what) sees you. To train for this, we use “predator drills.” They are multi-attacker drills that push you to respond strategically to as much incoming danger as possible. When you can operate effectively in the midst of three attackers, you are that much more capable to deal with one alone on the trail—whether it’s a would-be mugger or rapist, or a hungry puma looking for an easy meal.

Besides the awareness, the physical health benefits of practicing martial arts cannot be overlooked. How we train on the mats keeps us quick, agile, and strong. Think of it as CrossFit for more than just general fitness. It’s great to be fit, but it just makes sense to get fit while you are harnessing a practical skill. So test your abilities and coordination while building self-discipline and making some new friends by joining a martial-arts club in your area today—the benefits will reveal themselves on and off the trail.

John Betancourt is the executive director of Fortress Personal Defense Solutions in Bozeman.

Local Training Schools
Multiple options exist around Bozeman for self-defense and combatives training. Fortress Combat Arts (, next to Bozeman Camera on N. 7th Ave., teaches a wide range of defense techniques for men, women, and children, including boxing, shooting, mental preparation, and active-shooter scenarios. Montana Mixed Martial Arts Academy (, across the interstate at N. 7th and Griffin, focuses mainly on Muay Thai kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, though they offer also judo, youth classes, and women’s self-defense. Tactic ( teaches a broad spectrum of violence-avoidance, knife-defense, and shooting skills. Three Rivers Defense ( gives students practical instruction in personal-safety and self-defense. There are also several martial-arts-specific schools in the area, most of which are geared toward kids but welcome adults, too. Google Cunningham’s ATA (taekwondo), Cutting Edge Martial Arts, Bozeman Jiu-Jitsu, and Big Sky Aikido for more information.